Saturday, September 26, 2009

In Another World

All the fun of the fair. Candy-floss, woven sugar sticking to the hair; no bumping, but there always was, and the sound of The Kinks from a tinny speaker at one end of the dodgems track; a rare exotic fruit, the coconut, knocked down in the shy and smashed open at home to provide a slug of its sweet milk. There was also something dark and sinister about the fair. Not just the ghoulish apparitions of the ghost train and the screams as a luminous skeleton with a lascivious smile sprung up from the floor. Not just the crossing of the palm with silver, Gypsy Rose and her powers of the afterlife and future. Not just the itinerant lowlife, the travelling bands travelling at the edges of conformist society. It was the otherworldiness of the fair. The annual transformation of the local rec or park. When the fair came to town, the promise of all the fun hinted at something unseen and mysterious. It was an alteration, a disturbance to the normalcy of suburban living. The arrival of a certain brutishness. It was also long before health and safety, zealous revenue inspectors and the Benefits Agency. Gypsy Rose probably has to register for VAT nowadays. And issue a receipt. It was also before "love" and "mate". It was a time of "missus" and "squire" and "young man", the latter intoned as if by a bleating sheep. The fair, the circus and the panto. These were our altered states, and they had all been passed down along a time continuum dating back decades. The fair was partly the bastard child of the Victorian freak show, yet it was also the distant descendant of the fairs of both rural and urban life. It was the very intangibility of the past that lent the fair its air of otherworldiness.

At some point the fair had diverged, had taken different turnings, and one was given the Jack the Lads from sarf London with their carousel transporters and the real squires, the squirarchy that presided over the country fair, an altogether more genteel affair of fairy cakes, the local Roundtable, horsemanship and agricultural workers shovelling the droppings into bags of manure.

The fair in Mallorca never underwent such a divergence. It is a collision of fairground and trade fair. All the fun and all the commerce of the fair. Dodgems there are, trampolined into contemporary proximity to the bouncy inflatable. And a bit away, the stands for farm machinery rubbing shoulders with wine and herb drinks and local ministries issuing recycling propaganda. And so it will be next weekend when the fair comes to town in Alcúdia. It is the season of the fair - all over again. And the programme betrays a familiarity. A possible concession to economic hard times lies in the absence of a full-on thrash on the Saturday night, replaced by a karaoke "show time" for local amateurs. As with reality TV, reality party nights cut the costs of production, even taking into account that a winner can hope to trouser 300 euros.

There is not the same sense of unseen darkness about the local fairs. They have their past, as will Alcúdia, in the form of the "caparrots" (the giant heads), the giants themselves and the pipers. As ever, tradition outs, even among the shiny agro-technology. But the tradition, this past, can be seen. It exists. It moves along the streets of the town, the giants lumbering from the town hall while the bag-pipes screech. The figures themselves may have an appearance of mystery, of the bizarre and surreal, but they are real enough, depriving the fair of that unknown menace, that untouchable otherworldliness. All the fun of the fair. It was what you could never see that made it so.

(The programme for this year's fair is now available on the WHAT'S ON BLOG -

Yesterday's title - The League Of Gentlemen. Today's title - one word missing; great song, great group from the '80s.


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